FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:
April 19, 2006 (916) 651-4028/(916) 215-5953
WHO OR WHAT IS STOPPING THE SECRETARY OF STATE
FROM ALLOWING ELIGIBLE CALIFORNIANS TO REGISTER TO VOTE?
LEGAL OPINION CONCLUDES THE ROADBLOCK IS THE SECRETARY OF STATE
Bowen Says She’ll Introduce Legislation If Secretary of State Continues To Refuse To Alter Deal
With Bush Administration That Has Prevented Tens of Thousands of People From Registering To Vote
SACRAMENTO – The only thing that’s preventing the Secretary of State from altering his regulations and data matching standards to ensure eligible voters can register to vote is the Secretary of State.
That was the conclusion reached in a legal opinion issued late Tuesday by the Legislative Counsel of California. The opinion states there is nothing in federal or state law requiring the Secretary of State to adopt the regulations and data matching standards he’s been relying on that have combined to prevent tens of thousands of eligible California voters from registering to vote. A copy of the opinion is attached as a PDF file to the electronic version of this release and as a paper copy to the fax of this release.
“It's clear the Secretary has the legal authority to take the steps necessary to ensure eligible voters have the ability to register before the June primary, but whether he’s actually willing to put the voters ahead of the Bush Administration remains to be seen,” said Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee.
“I’ve been saying for three weeks that this problem needs to get solved and the quickest way to fix it is for the Secretary to abandon his deal with the Bush Administration and change the regulations and the data matching standards he’s adopted that have pulled the rug out from under thousands of eligible voters,” continued Bowen. “If he won’t fix this problem for the voters, then, like everyone else who thinks preventing eligible voters from registering is a problem, I’m prepared to try and correct it legislatively.”
According to the legal opinion:
“. . . the Secretary of State has the authority under existing federal and state law to adopt regulations that, pursuant to appropriate safeguards to protect the accuracy and integrity of voter registration data, would allow state and local elections officials to correct erroneous information regarding a driver’s license or social security number contained in a voter affidavit of registration, or, if that information is not provided by the affiant, to add that information to the affidavit.”
“The Secretary of State has been saying for weeks that his hands are tied by the law and he can’t do anything to fix a problem that his deal with the Bush Administration in fact created,” noted Bowen. “Two weeks ago, the independent Brennan Center for Justice pointed out that wasn’t true and now we have a formal legal opinion confirming that nothing in the law prevents the Secretary of State from pulling down the hurdles he set up with the Bush Administration that have prevented thousands of eligible voters from registering to vote.”
– MORE –
Article II, Section 2, of the California Constitution reads:
“A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.”
“The State Constitution ensures that everyone who is a U.S. citizen, is 18-years-old, is a resident of California, and isn’t in prison, on parole for a felony conviction, or mentally incompetent has a right to register to vote in this state,” noted Bowen. “The Secretary of State should be focused on upholding the Constitutional right that every eligible California voter is entitled to instead of working with the Bush Administration to put up roadblocks to prevent people from registering to vote.”
On April 6, the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee held a three-hour hearing on the problems that have resulted from the Secretary of State’s regulations and data matching standards, though the Secretary declined to take part in the hearing. During her testimony, Wendy Weiser of Brennan Center for Justice noted the Secretary of State has adopted the most restrictive standards in the country that are preventing “thousands and thousands” of eligible voters from being able to register to vote.
On April 7, in the wake of the hearing, the Secretary of State notified the county elections officials he would change his data matching standards in one area. The change allows people who submit a voter registration form with their driver’s license number on it (if the license was issued before December 2005) to be automatically registered by the Secretary of State’s computer system if the number matches a record in the Department of Motor Vehicles database using the first three letters of the person’s last name or their date of birth. Under the previous system, only the first three letters of a person’s name were used for the match, meaning people whose driver’s license was in a different last name (perhaps they’d gotten married), had spaces in their name the computer didn’t recognize (such as “de la Torre”), or had two last names (such as “Lam Chen”) were routinely rejected.
Following is a timeline of events:
o November 2, 2005 – The Secretary of State announces he has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to create the Statewide Voter Registration Database mandated by HAVA. The Bush Administration refers to it as a “model for other states . . .”
o December 5, 2005 – The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials (NALEO) write to the Secretary of State to comment on the regulations he proposes to implement the agreement, saying they would “disenfranchise many voters.”
o December 12, 2005 – The Secretary of State adopts emergency regulations to implement the agreement. Emergency regulations can only last for 120 days, so these were set to expire on April 11, 2006, but were extended on April 5, 2006.
o February 24, 2006 – The Secretary of State responds to the APALC and NALEO letter by saying in part, he will consider amending the regulations following “the experience of the June primary.” This means tens of thousands of people may be prevented from registering to vote and voting in the June primary.
o March 24, 2006 – The Brennan Center for Justice in New York (www.brennancenter.org) issues a report on how the 50 states are implementing the HAVA requirement to create a Statewide Voter Registration Database. The report finds that California has implemented one of the most restrictive systems in the country in terms of setting up barriers that may prevent eligible voters from registering to vote.
o March 28, 2006 – Senator Debra Bowen and the League of Women Voters of California write to the Secretary of State independently, pointing out figures from Los Angeles County showing nearly 43% of all registration forms are being rejected by the Secretary of State’s database, and urging the Secretary to alter his regulations and data matching criteria to resolve the problem.
– MORE –
o March 29, 2006 – The Secretary of State’s spokesperson is quoted as saying the rejection rate is 26% across the state. According to county elections officials, historically only about 1% of all voters attempting to register to vote are found to be ineligible to do so.
o March 31, 2006 – The Secretary of State announces that instead of changing his regulations or data matching standards, he’s proposing legislation to change one piece of the law so that if a county elections official submits a voter registration form without a driver’s license number on it, the form will be accepted as long as there is a match to only one record in the Department of Motor Vehicle files. County elections officials estimate this will address between 33% and 50% of the problem.
o April 5, 2006 – The Secretary of State files a request to extend his emergency regulations, saying “… the need for changes or additions to the regulations may only become apparent once their functionality has been observed in the course of an actual election . . . it is in the best interests of the voters of this state to readopt the emergency regulations . . . and wait until after the June 6, 2006, election to begin the process of revising the regulations and implementing them on a permanent basis. If the regulations are not readopted, the Secretary of State will be out of compliance with HAVA and the November 2, 2005, interim compliance agreement with the Department [U.S. Department of Justice], resulting in the risk of legal action by the Department ...”
o April 6, 2006 – The Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee holds a three-hour hearing on the issue. The Secretary of State declines to appear at the hearing. A witness for the Brennan Center for Justice testifies that as a result of the Secretary of State’s regulations and data matching standards, California’s policy is “an unmitigated disaster that would disenfranchise thousands upon thousands of eligible voters.” She also states the Secretary of State cannot be sued for changing the regulations or data matching standards in a way that doesn’t comply with his agreement with the Bush Administration. He can only be sued for failing to comply with HAVA and 41 other states have adopted regulations and data matching standards that allow eligible voters to easily register to vote without violating the requirements of HAVA.
o April 7, 2006 – The Secretary of State, in an e-mail sent to county elections officials, announces he is changing his data matching standards in one area. The change would allow people who submit a voter registration form with their driver’s license number on it (if the license was issued before December 2005) to be automatically registered by the Secretary of State’s computer system if the number matches a record in the Department of Motor Vehicles database using the first three letters of the person’s last name or their date of birth. Under the previous system, only the first three letters of a person’s name were used for the match, meaning people whose driver’s license was in a different last name (perhaps they’d gotten married), had spaces in their name the computer didn’t recognize (such as “de la Torre”), or have two last names (such as “Lam Chen”) were routinely rejected.
o April 18, 2006 – The Legislative Counsel of California issues a legal opinion concluding that nothing in state or federal law precludes the Secretary of State from changing his regulations or data matching standards to reduce the number of hurdles an eligible voter has to clear before being able to register to vote.